A Day in the Life of a Technical Writing Veteran

The last post in this month’s series of guest posts is by Larry Kunz, a technical writing pro for 39 years! I have been a follower of Larry’s insightful blog for quite some time now, and it is an honor for me to have Larry share his perspective here on my blog. So let’s get to it! Here’s Larry’s post:

I’ve worked in technical writing, and in closely related fields, like project management or marketing, for almost 39 years. Today I’m a Lead Technical Writer at Extreme Networks.

We make and sell equipment for data networks — switches, routers, wireless access points — and the software that controls them. I write the documentation for installing, customizing, and maintaining the physical equipment.

You might’ve heard that technical writing is humdrum, that we do the same work day in and day out. That isn’t my experience.

One of the things I love about working in technical writing, in fact, is that every day is unique. We serve our employers and our customers in so many ways, and we use so many processes and tools, that every day presents new variety.

Let me show you what I mean, by stepping through a day in my life.

Knowing the technology
You might’ve heard that technical writers only need to know the basics of the technologies they work with. That isn’t my experience.

Today I’ll read the design specs for a new product the company hopes to introduce. I’ll read with two purposes in mind: to learn about the product, and to return comments to the designer if anything seems out of whack or is unclear. I might challenge the author to explain the app in terms that a customer would understand — to help me (and the customer I represent) understand how to use the app, not how the app works.

Working on teams
You might’ve heard that technical writing is a solitary profession — that you spend most of the time by yourself. That isn’t my experience.

Today I’ll meet with a software designer to get a big-picture understanding of a new app that customers will use to monitor our equipment. I’ll visit the hardware lab, where one of our test engineers will show me how our new switches are cabled together. In both cases, my colleague will help me gain the understanding I’ll need to describe our products to our customers.

Participating fully
You might’ve heard that technical writers aren’t respected by subject-matter experts, or accepted as colleagues. That isn’t my experience.

Today I’ll meet with three colleagues from Engineering, one from Tech Support, and one from Marketing to discuss a white paper I’m developing. This particular piece was inspired by something a customer wrote on the company’s user forum. It looked so good that I suggested touching it up and publishing it on the company website. But now, questions have arisen about whether its recommendations are in sync with the company’s overall marketing themes. I’m sure we’ll have a lively discussion, with each constituency being heard before I try to lead the group to consensus.

Solving problems creatively
You might’ve heard that technical writing isn’t a creative endeavor. That isn’t my experience.

Today I have to write instructions for mounting switches in a rack, when three different switch models come with three different mounting brackets. Some of the steps will be common to all three models, but some will vary. Making each step clear and not leaving anything out will require cleverness and imagination. It’ll require creativity.

Creativity is the art of solving problems, whether the problem is how to paint the creation of Adam on a curved surface (as it was for Michelangelo) or how to document the best way to mount three switch models with different mounting brackets. Don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying that I have even a tiny fraction of Michelangelo’s genius or talent. But I’m saying that he would recognize the creative process involved in doing the job of a technical writer.

A new day tomorrow
After a day of delving into technical details, of talking – and leading a conversation – with subject-matter experts, of solving problems creatively, I’ll rest up for tomorrow.
Tomorrow’s tasks will be different. I’ll post the final, approved version of a Hardware Configuration Guide. I’ll meet with the team that maintains the Confluence wiki we use to communicate throughout the Tech Pubs organization. Since I hold a senior-level position within my team, I’ll also be helping to rewrite the template our organization uses for documentation plans.

See what I mean? Every day is different. But every day makes use of my technical knowledge, every day has me working on teams, and every day gives me a chance to solve problems creatively.

Is technical writing the life for you?

4 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of a Technical Writing Veteran

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